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The Power of Even a Drop of Critical Pedagogy

Every day, many anxious students tap their feet, drum their fingers, and hum throughout “core” classes, anticipating the much favored music class.  Expecting to learn about something new and interesting, desperate to learn new techniques on an instrument, and ready to make music, the students are often clay in the hands of a teacher.  Music so often lends itself to a whole-brained learning experience, which Bernice McCarthy calls “Experiential Learning.”  This experiential learning process involves the student and the teacher on numerous levels of teaching and learning, feeling, experiencing, reflecting, and conceptualizing in a real world classroom.  Although many teachers may facilitate parts of this process, the combined effect could truly revolutionize many classrooms.

Paulo Freire developed the concept of Critical Pedagogy, which not only involves experiential learning, but also critical theory.  Ever since learning about Critical Pedagogy, I have done everything I could do put it into practice.  Let me tell you… The results have been out of this world…

Out of World Magic

Critical Pedagogy is a synergetic environment in which the teacher learns from the students and the students learn from the teacher.  Learning ensues through experiences related to the history of the students’ daily lives and their environment, in which students are free to create the unthinkable and expand the unknowable.  Critical Pedagogy is a form of learning that allows and encourages the students to go beyond the knowledge of the teacher.  This form of pedagogy transforms students as well as the teacher.  I have finally seen the results and it is incredible!

Danny Conducting Senior

Senior Danny Nguyen acknowledging the wonderful musicians after conducting his piece.

In Critical Pedagogy, independent thought, expression, improvisation, musicality, and critical thinking are approached in a cooperative manner.  In this way, the students not only experience while learning, but they play a pivotal role in the decisions within the classroom, and thus have a vested interest in seeing the class succeed.  Critical Pedagogy holds in great regard  student interests, real world experiences, and opportunities for student leadership.  These real world experiences allow students to see and feel the value of lessons and knowledge.

I have not seen Critical Pedagogy transform my own program by allowing students to see beyond the present and  into the realm of possibility. At the bottom of each email, I have a quote from Thomas Carruthers “A Teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”  This quote has resonated with me for some time.  And at my most recent concert, I was able to finally see this come into fruition.  I have been working with my students on teaching, conducting, leading, and moving each class in a direction based upon the interests and preferences of each ensemble.  My most recent concert was a beautiful representation of just some of the ways Critical Pedagogy has helped me to transform my own program.

I am not by any means saying that my ways of applying Critical Pedagogy have been perfect, but I have seen great changes with some small moves toward a more synergetic classroom!  Here are just a few small ways I incorporated Critical Pedagogy into my concert preparation for this most recent program:

  1. Students helped to select the repertoire – This is one of the easiest ways to provide students with a responsibility and sense of ownership over your program.  My students were so invested in the music we selected that when I mentioned the possibility of leaving out just one movement of one of our pieces, they protested!  They said that they would prefer to show their parents their progress as part of the performance instead of leave out a movement.  INCREDIBLE!

  2. Students create storylines and even map out what emotions the music represents – As an ensemble, we work together through these things.  Students will discuss what it is about the music that makes them feel a certain way.  They each bring a unique argument to their point.

eyebrows on fleek

We try to find a central emotion to communicate to our audiences.  We work together on eyebrow movement (yes, we do!), posture, and vibrato speed.  These things make a huge diffrence in the performance and are even more striking when the students themselves play such a pivotal role in their creation!

3. Conducting Experience! – Not only do I have them conduct, but I actually have them leading rehearsals, sectionals, and preparing one piece for the end of the year concert.  This is such an incredible opportunity, and I have been able to see the full value of Critical Pedagogy as I watch how my own students take into account the backgrounds, needs, and experiences of their peers.  At this last concert of the year, I watched as 5 of my seniors conducted their pieces.  These experiences were life-changing for them and were incredibly positive for my other students.  For my seniors, it gave them the confidence to almost completely break out of the role of “student” and into the role of “mentor.”  This was phenomenal.  For my other musicians, it gave them a vision for the future, and provided them with a greater understanding of the values we are creating within our program.

Leif Conducting Senior

Senior Leif Jomuad conducting Sinfonia Orchestra (Seniors get to wear crowns at this concert).

Ever since this last concert, my younger students have been even more vocal about what they want to do musically.  They have been quicker to suggest musical ideas and expressions, and they have seemed more invested in the future of the program.  I have seen an identity shift and a greater sense of responsibility for the program.  I am so pleased with this change and hope to do more with Critical Pedagogy to further understand Freire’s vision and to continue to build a more cooperative and student-focused environment.

Works Cited:

Abrahams, Frank. 2005. The Application of Critical Pedagogy to Music Teaching and Learning. Visions            of Research in Music Education 6.

Tanner, Daniel and Laurel Tanner. 2007. Curriculum Development: Theory into            Practice. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.

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